A RECENT ATTACK ON JOURNALISM EDUCATION WAS WRONG AND HARMFUL. HERE’S ANOTHER VIEW

By Christopher B. Daly

Journalism Professor,

Boston University

 

In its spring/summer issue for 2018, the Columbia Journalism Review ran an odd attack on, of all things, journalism education. It was written by Felix Salmon, a journalist whose work I admire. But in this case, almost every sentence he wrote was outdated, tendentious, or flat-out wrong.

Here’s his piece in regular text and my comments in all caps bold.

By Felix Salmon

When it comes to journalism school, there are two questions. The first is the tough one, and was asked and answered by Michael Lewis in a blistering (and very funny) takedown in The New Republic in 1993: Is it all bullshit? The answer then was a clear yes.

THIS SEEMS GLIB, ESPECIALLY COMING FROM SOMEONE WHO NEVER WENT TO ONE.

 In the 25 years since Lewis wrote his article, the occupation of journalism has become more precarious than ever: Joseph Pulitzer’s plan to “raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession” rings hollow in an age of Chartbeat, post quotas, and pay-per-pageview. If you meet a theologian today, or a lawyer, or a doctor, it’s reasonable to assume they have studied deeply and learned a lot in order to do their job. That’s not the case with journalism, nor should it be;

ARE YOU MAKING THE CASE FOR IGNORANCE HERE?

even J-school’s staunchest defenders don’t consider a journalism degree to be a necessary prerequisite for anybody entering the field. 

GRANTED, A DEGREE IS NEITHER NECESSARY NOR SUFFICIENT. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE ALL WORTHLESS FOR ALL PEOPLE. FOR SOME STUDENTS, THEY ARE A LIFELINE.

 Thus have the contours of the debate stood for at least a quarter century. ACTUALLY, THIS DEBATE HIS NOT CHANGED MUCH SINCE 1904. AS I WRITE IN MY BOOK “COVERING AMERICA,” JOSEPH PULITZER AND HORACE WHITE DEBATED WHETHER A NEWS REPORTER EVEN NEEDED TO ATTEND COLLEGE. (WHITE SAID NO, PULITZER YES)

Copy Desk, Columbia J-School

Students at the Columbia Journalism School work at the “copy desk.”

On one side, we find people who think a journalism degree can be a useful way to learn skills that come in handy while editing and reporting; on the other, more perspicacious types look around, see that many of the greatest journalists have no such degree, and can find no evidence that a J-school education correlates in any way with better work.

THE FACT THAT “MANY OF THE GREATEST JOURNALISTS” OF THE PAST – OR EVEN OF THE PRESENT – DID NOT GET JOURNALISM DEGREES HAS NO BEARING ON WHETHER CURRENT STUDENTS WILL NEED THOSE DEGREES IN THE FUTURE. THINGS CHANGE.

IN MY OWN CASE, I STUDIED HISTORY IN COLLEGE IN THE 1970S AND WORKED ON THE COLLEGE PAPER. I GOT SUMMER JOBS AT SUBURBAN NEWSPAPERS, WHERE I WAS PAID. (AND PAID THE UNION WAGE, TOO!)

Perhaps it is worth asking a more pointed question: Should J-school even exist?

For anybody on Lewis’s side of the original question, the answer is easy. If J-school is indeed bullshit, if it adds no value to the world, if it has signally failed in more than a century of existence to raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession

JOURNALISM IS QUITE A BIT CLOSER TO A LEARNED PROFESSION THAN IT WAS A CENTURY AGO —well, then, it has no real ability to justify its existence, and the world would be better off without it. But the fact is that everybody should concede that the world would be better off without J-school, no matter how noble they consider Pulitzer’s original undertaking.

Indeed, the more useful J-school is, the more urgent and important its abolition becomes. A useless J-school is a waste of time and money for those who go there, offset by the benefit that accrues to teachers and other recipients of the students’ tuition. The net effect is negative, but the only people suffering real harm are the students. What’s more, it’s easy to avoid that harm: Don’t go to J-school. But what if the J-school defenders are right? What if J-school students really do end up with a significant advantage over those who don’t share their credentials? In that case, even more people are harmed. 

HUH?

J-school attendees might get a benefit from their journalism degree, but it comes at an eye-watering cost. The price tag of the Columbia Journalism School, for instance, is $105,820 for a 10-month program, $147,418 for a 12-month program, or $108,464 per year for a two-year program. That’s a $216,928 graduate degree, on top of all the costs associated with gaining the undergraduate prerequisites. (Columbia, it seems important to say, is also the publisher of Columbia Journalism Review, the publication you’re now reading.)

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: MOST SCHOOLS COST LESS, AND NEARLY ALL REDUCE THAT “STICKER PRICE” WITH SCHOLARSHIPS. SO, THIS IS AN ALARMIST FIGURE. TUITION IS STILL TOO HIGH, GRANTED. BUT IT IS NOT THAT HIGH.

 There are also substantial opportunity costs. Once you’ve graduated from a four-year college, you’re eminently employable, and can enter the workforce immediately. If you delay your career by another year or two, you lose out on a significant amount of income as well as valuable professional experience. Even if you start working in journalism at minimum wage, after a year or two you’re still going to be richer, more experienced, more employable, and almost certainly more skilled than someone who’s spent that time getting a grad-school degree.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE YOUNG PERSON WHO GRADUATED WITH A DEGREE IN ENGLISH? THE WORLD IS HARDLY WAITING FOR THEM. MANY OF THEM TAKE STOCK IN THEIR LATE 20S AND DECIDE TO GET A MORE-PROFESSIONAL DEGREE, LIKE JOURNALISM. WE KICK-START MANY CAREERS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WERE WAITING TABLES.

But what about the people who choose not to go to J-school? Here’s their problem: When you’re looking for that entry-level foot in the door, you’re going to be competing against applicants a year or two older than you who have just spent six figures getting themselves a Columbia degree. And if that credential is worth even marginally more than nothing, those candidates are going to be more attractive to employers, and more likely to get the job. 

The result is a crowding-out effect, whereby job-hunting J-school graduates, having already caused themselves substantial financial harm, then go on to harm any aspiring journalistic employee who was smart enough not go to J-school. 

What does that mean in practice? It means a much less diverse workforce, at a time when newsroom diversity has perhaps never been more important. If you’re poor, or working-class, or a rural person of color, or mobility-constrained, or a single mother struggling to bring up multiple children, or otherwise part of a group that has historically been underrepresented in newsrooms, is it possible for you to go to J-school? Sure. Is it likely? Not in the slightest. VALID POINT. THE WORST FEATURE ABOUT ALL OF AMERICAN HIGHER ED, NOT JUST JOURNALISM, IS THAT IT IS TOO EXPENSIVE.

Is it advisable? It is not. INVALID POINT. IF YOU WANTED TO GO AND YOU COULD GO, YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD.

Yet you’re exactly the kind of person news organizations should be spending more effort bringing into their ranks. Carl Bernstein never went to college; ANCIENT HISTORY

the journalistic profession needs more of his ilk, not fewer.

The best and simplest way to move toward that goal would be to abolish the graduate journalism degree entirely. That would help to level the playing field, while saving students billions of dollars in tuition. Better yet, it would bring the industry back to a model of on-the-job training. People wanting to enter the profession would get paid to learn the ropes.

BY WHOM??? I BENEFITED FROM THAT KIND OF ON-THE-JOB TRAINING, BUT THAT WAS 45 YEARS AGO! THE SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED PAPERS THAT USED TO OFFER THOSE KINDS OF JOBS ARE THE LEAST LIKELY AND LEAST ABLE TO OFFER THEM TODAY. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT OUR STUDENTS ARE OFTEN FILLING THE GAPS IN THOSE HOLLOWED-OUT LOCAL PAPERS. MOST J-SCHOOLS COMBINE CLASSROOM LEARNING WITH REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE.

 It’s more effective, it’s infinitely more real, and it focuses the mind: No one’s going to fire you from J-school if you misspell the mayor’s name in a headline. 

Rather than putting money and effort into expensive trainee programs, news organizations no doubt will attempt to outsource their training to journalism schools, thereby getting someone else (anybody else!) to pay the cost.

THEY DID SO LONG AGO, AND THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK THEY WILL REVERSE THAT DECISION.

 

 It’s a false economy, because a well-run trainee or internship program is not only cheaper than J-school, it’s also vastly more valuable. 

NOT NECESSARILY. I LEARNED A LOT ON THE JOB, BUT I NEVER LEARNED ANYTHING ABOUT THE HISTORY, LAW, OR ETHICS OF OUR FIELD. BESIDES, WHERE ARE YOUNG PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO LEARN SKILLS LIKE ‘DATA JOURNALISM’ OR ‘DATA VISUALIZATION’? NOT FROM GRIZZLED VETERANS, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM DO NOT HAVE THESE SKILLS THEMSELVES. THAT’S WHY OUR STUDENTS ARE IN DEMAND FOR JOBS LIKE “MMJ” AND “MULTIMEDIA PRODUCER” AND “DATA INVESTIGATOR.”

So let’s abolish J-school, or at the very least turn it into a purely academic subject no one can mistake for vocational training. By doing so, we will force the training back into the newsrooms, where it belongs. WISHFUL THINKING.

 THE FACT IS, WE NEED JOURNALISM EDUCATION NOW MORE THAN EVER.

Story outline

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under digital media, Journalism, journalism history, media, news, reporting, writing

A warning from a century ago: Resist criminalizing thought, speech, and expression

By Christopher B. Daly

Below is a piece I wrote for the Made in History section of The Washington Post.

(The original had a different illustration.)

 

download

Democracy Dies in Darkness

Made by History Perspective

Why we shouldn’t criminalize political speech — even the worst of it

A marketplace of ideas is our best hope for functional democracy.

By Christopher B. Daly May 24 at 6:00 AM

Christopher B. Daly is a reporter, historian and professor at Boston University and the author of the prize-winning study of the history of U.S. journalism titled “Covering America,” now available in an expanded second edition.

A CENTURY AGO this month, Congress passed a Sedition Act, effectively making it illegal to express opposition to President Woodrow Wilson’s war policies and abridging Americans’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of the press.

With candidate Donald Trump arguing protesters should be arrested and now-President Trump making threats on a regular basis against what he calls “fake news,” hinting that he would like to rein in a free press, it seems timely to consider the Sedition Act of 1918 and see what can be learned from that history.

Wilson had campaigned for reelection in 1916, in part on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War!” Things changed quickly, however, in 1917. By April, Wilson had decided that German attacks on U.S. shipping were intolerable, and he attempted to lead a reluctant nation into war. Because he did not entirely trust the public to support his push, Wilson was concerned about enforcing “loyalty,” as he understood it.

With the U.S. mobilizing for war and Democrats in control of the federal government, Congress gave Wilson a new tool for enforcing that loyalty: the Espionage Act. While criminalizing expression, the Espionage Act was fairly non-controversial — prohibiting behavior that amounted to military spying (taking U.S. military secrets without authority and selling or giving them to a hostile power in wartime).

But it also set a dangerous limit on freedom of speech. Whenever the United States was at war, the law made it a federal crime to make “false statements” intended to interfere with the armed forces or to “willfully obstruct” the military draft. Violations could be punished by fines of up to $10,000 or by 20 years in prison.

Essentially, Congress made it a crime to use words to oppose the war effort or to encourage young men to resist the draft. The greatest immediate impact of the new law fell on the socialist and German-language newspapers, many of which were promptly suppressed.

In 1918, while U.S. forces were fighting in Europe, the majority of American newspapers enthusiastically supported the war effort. Most cooperated with the government’s efforts to shape the coverage, and when in doubt, most editors engaged in self-censorship. Even so, the president and Congress were not taking any chances.

So Congress passed another, more draconian law abridging freedom of the press, the Sedition Act of 1918 (technically, a batch of amendments to the Espionage Act). For the first time since 1798, Congress deemed expression of certain ideas a crime. The result was, according to one legal scholar, “the most repressive legislation in American history.”

The 1918 law made it a crime to publish “any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” or any language intended to provoke scorn about the American government, system of government, Constitution, armed forces or flag. It also prohibited displaying the flag of a foreign enemy and any advocacy for the curtailment of the production of goods necessary to prosecute the war effort. Violations could be punished by fines up to $10,000 or 20 years in prison. Both the House and Senate rapidly approved the measure, and Wilson signed it into law in May 1918.

The plain meaning of the new law was clear: Watch what you say. If you displease the government, you will go to jail.

sedition_cartoonFederal prosecutors made ample use of the statute during the remaining six months of the war. One month after the law was signed, for example, prosecutors brought charges against the most prominent socialist in the United States, Eugene V. Debs. As the Socialist Party candidate for president in 1912, Debs had captured almost a million votes. Debs was a visible critic of the war with a substantial following nationwide. Yet his popularity didn’t prevent Debs from being sentenced to 10 years in federal prison — just for giving a speech.

The wartime limits upon freedom of speech and press led to a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings after the war ended in 1919, which permanently circumscribed freedom of expression, particularly in wartime.

In the landmark case of Schenck v. U.S., socialist Charles Schenck challenged a prison sentence he had received not for an act of resistance, but for authoring a pamphlet urging voters to tell their member of Congress to vote against the draft. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. spoke for the court, asserting that all speech must be considered in context. He famously used the example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, which, while being a civic duty in a burning theater, was dangerous and reckless in a theater not on fire.

Applying this logic to wartime, Holmes concluded that Schenck’s ideas amounted to a “clear and present danger” to a country at war, and the court upheld his conviction. The court also upheld Debs’s conviction. Holmes explained that if “one purpose of the speech . . . was to oppose [the] war, . . . and if, in all the circumstances, that would be its probable effect, it would not be protected.”

The Court split in Abrams v. U.S., a case in which the defendants were sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison for a political pamphlet that charged that Wilson had ordered an invasion of Russia not for his stated reason — to open an eastern front against Germany — but to roll back the Russian Revolution. Citing Holmes’s reasoning in Schenck, the majority unsurprisingly upheld the convictions of the defendants.

But Holmes himself dissented, along with Justice Louis Brandeis, laying out the case against the Sedition Act — one that resonates today. He argued that the framers of the Constitution believed that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.” Clearly, Holmes had come to believe that Americans were best served when truth and error were free to do battle in a wide-open “marketplace of ideas” in which the government plays no role.

In spite of the Court’s willingness to countenance limits upon free speech, on Dec. 13, 1920, Congress repealed the Sedition Act while leaving intact the older provisions that made up the Espionage Act. That law remains in effect today, banning criminal deeds.

But we have now survived a century without a Sedition Act, and we should heed the clarion warning from Holmes. The First Amendment protects political speech for a reason — the founders wisely understood that an open marketplace of ideas provided the best chance for democratic governance to work. We should not be in a rush to put Americans in jail for the things they think, say, print, broadcast or tweet.

–30–

Leave a comment

Filed under First Amendment, history, Journalism, journalism history, press freedom, Trump, Uncategorized

Abolish the NCAA (graduation edition)

By Christopher B. Daly

For a couple of years now, I have been urging the abolition of the NCAA. Not reform, but the outright dismantling of an organization that is deeply corrupt and brings no good to America’s college campuses.

In addition to the facts and arguments in previous posts, here is more evidence. Boston Globe Derrick Z. Jackson has been keeping track of how many big-time NCAA players actually get the one thing that going to college might do that would benefit them for the rest of their adult lives — getting a bachelor’s degree.

The sad fact is, most NCAA basketball players do not graduate with a diploma. Big-time college basketball operates pretty much as a minor league for the NBA with teams that just happen to be located on college campuses.

Here is Jackson’s latest report card on college graduation rates for the NCAA’s elite basketball players. Some lowlights:

–UCLA: 20% (for black players)

NorthCarolinaLogo

 

–Carolina: 40%

–Kentucky 60% (for black players)

In the classroom, those are failing grades.

Leave a comment

Filed under college basketball, NCAA, Sports, Uncategorized

Congress is questioning the wrong guy

By Christopher B. Daly 

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appears today before a congressional committee, the social media magnate is bound to attract pervasive media coverage. But the spotlight is on the wrong party.

The real culprit in the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal is Robert Mercer, the major backer of Cambridge Analytica, who has frankly acknowledged his willingness to use his hedge-fund fortune to manipulate American politics. Facebook certainly had a role in the scandal, but the driving force was Mercer, not Zuckerberg.

Republicans are eager to question Zuckerberg in part because of a long-running campaign by Fox News to discredit not just Facebook but all of Silicon Valley. The Fox script is a familiar one: the “cool kids” in California look down on us, and they support all those liberals in the Democratic Party. Therefore, they are fair game — they do not enjoy the default support that Americans who run businesses otherwise enjoy from Fox and the Republican Party.

By the same logic, there is one key player in the Facebook data scandal who will almost certainly NOT be summoned before Congress: Mercer. That’s because congressional Republicans are terrified of Mercer. He is a billionaire who spends tens of millions of dollars a year supporting conservative candidates for office. He is a principal backer of Cambridge Analytica, the shadowy political consultants who helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.

If you want to hear Mercer testifying in Congress, you’ll have to wait for a Democratic majority to get back in power and resume governing.

52f78ead9ac0fee4597aa2a5d1dd70fb

source: Campaign Legal Center.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under computers, Donald Trump, Facebook, media, Politics, Uncategorized, Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg is not the real culprit. (It’s Mercer.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is on the hot seat. He is taking a lot of heat this week for Facebook’s role in the assault on American democracy that took place during the 2016 presidential election.

He deserves a lot of the criticism — for not protecting his users’ privacy, for putting jv14ju53t6xpmm9ojuzhprofits above all, for lacking candor at every step of the way.

But he is not the real villain in this piece. The fact is, he was played. Facebook (meaning not just the company but also the vast “community” of users) was used by the real villain.

The moving party in all this was Robert Mercer. Facebook was just sitting there — ripe and perhaps willing to be exploited. But to his credit, Zuckerberg did not embark on a

download

US billionaire Robert Mercer in Washington DC in March this year. Photograph: Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post via Getty Images

stealth campaign to change the outcome of our presidential election in ways that damaged the electoral process and stuck us with a president who is — shall we say — not making America great in any way, shape, or form.

That role was played by Robert Mercer. He is the billionaire who decided to take the fortune he made as a hedge fund manager and deploy it in politics.

Here’s a quick bio:

Born in 1946 at the very leading edge of the Baby Boom. Raised in New Mexico.

Got his bachelor’s degree in physics and math at the publicly funded state-run University of New Mexico.

He got experience in writing computer programs at the taxpayers’ expense while working in a weapons lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

Then, he topped off his education at the public’s expense by getting a PhD from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

Later, he joined the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, where he made a fortune in the stock market (which functions only because it is regulated, at taxpayer expense, so it does not operate as a den of thieves).

And what was his take-away from all the benefits he derived from all those publicly funded or regulated operations? Apparently, his reaction was a strong hatred of government, regulation, and taxes.

Thanks a lot. After all we did for you, this is the gratitude we get?

It gets worse. Because he is a billionaire (in a society where the rule of law protects him and allows him to keep his money safe), he is able to act on his views in ways that are not available to ordinary citizens. Empowered specifically by the Citizens United ruling, which equated spending money with speaking and therefore allows essentially unlimited spending on politics, Mercer has taken a comprehensive approach:

–donating to conservative “think tanks” that produce the rationales for raging social inequality

–donating directly to Republican campaigns for office (Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and many others)

–secretly manipulating the outcome of the Brexit campaign

–providing financial backing for Breitbart News and supporting its chief Steve Bannon

–backing Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining and analysis firm, for the specific purpose of influencing American politics. It was Cambridge Analytica that picked Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets and used all that Facebook data to promote Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton.

Compared to Mercer, Zuckerberg seems like a kinda sweet, perhaps naive, young guy. With any luck, Zuckerberg is wising up fast. He will need to if he wants to keep swimming in the same ocean as sharks like Mercer.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Facebook, media, Politics, regulation, social media, Uncategorized

This week in fossil fuels (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Trump puts another fox in charge of another henhouse. Here’s the Trump appointee who is in charge of drilling safety at the Interior Dept:

“Not all the good ideas in America come over the banks of the Potomac River,” Mr. Angelle said at a meeting in Houston in September that was sponsored by an affiliate of the American Petroleum Institute, the large industry lobbying group, and attended by a reporter. “To the degree this industry wants to be part of the discussion, tell me where you want me to be and we will be there,” he said, evoking applause.

Leave a comment

Filed under energy, Environment, fossil fuels, oil, Trump

Data viz: News media struggle to convey gun story

By Christopher B. Daly 

The recurring American nightmare of mass shootings presents many challenges to the news media who must cover them. This New York Times story gives a glimpse into one of the challenges, as the paper deployed about 40 journalists to cover the shootings in Parkland, Fla.

Another challenge falls to the talented people who work in the newsroom specialty known as data visualization. They struggle to make isolated facts tell stories. Here are two recent efforts that make essentially the same point in slightly different ways:

The first is from NPR, a bar chart:

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 4.39.32 PM

This one is from the Times, a scatter plot:

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 4.40.18 PM

I lean toward the scatter plot myself in this case. Oddly, here is a version of the scatter plot, minus all the words and legends. In an way, it’s even more eloquent than the version the Times posted online.

chart_totals-Artboard_1

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under data journalism, Journalism, New York Times, Uncategorized